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Billy Connolly (1942)

Type :  

  Summary  

William "Billy" Connolly, Jr., CBE is a Scottish comedian, musician, presenter and actor. He is sometimes known, especially in his native Scotland, by the nickname The Big Yin . His first trade, in the early 1960s, was as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards, but he gave it up towards the end of the decade to pursue a career as a folk singer in the Humblebums and subsequently as a soloist. In the early 1970s he made the transition from folk-singer with a comedic persona to full-fledged comedian, a role in which he continues. He also became an actor, and has appeared in such films as Indecent Proposal ;Muppet Treasure Island ; Mrs. Brown , for which he was nominated for a BAFTA; The Boondock Saints ; The Man Who Sued God ; Water ; The Last Samurai ; Timeline ; Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events ; Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties ; Open Season ; The X-Files: I Want to Believe ; and Open Season 2 . Connolly reprised his role as Noah "Il Duce" MacManus in The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day. Connolly appears as the King of Lilliput in the 2010 remake of Gulliver′s Travels.

  Biography  

 early life
Connolly was born at 69 Dover Street ("on the linoleum, three floors up" "at six o'clock in the evening") in Anderston, Glasgow, to William Connolly and his wife Mary "Mamie" Connolly, a hospital cafeteria worker. Connolly's grandfather was an Irish immigrant. In 1946, when he was barely four years old, Connolly's mother abandoned her children when his father was still away in the army. Connolly and his sister, Florence, were cared for by two aunts, Margaret and Mona Connolly, his father's sisters. His biography, written by wife Pamela Stephenson, documented years of physical and sexual abuse by his father, which began when he was ten and lasted until he was about fifteen.

"Twice in my life, little birds have flown in and made a huge difference," explained Connolly in 1996. When he was seven, the Connolly family went to Rothesay on holiday. He was sent to get some milk and bread rolls. On his way back with his hands full, a bird landed on his head. Connolly immediately thought God had called him and "nearly had a coronary". "It was a jackdaw, and I didn't know you could teach jackdaws to speak. But I was walking along, and this thing landed on my head and said hello. I nearly passed away. I learned subsequently that it was a tame bird, and we became friends and I got used to the idea: the bird would land on me and I was quite happy. My life had changed forever." Connolly said the second "bird" was Brett Whiteley, an Australian artist he met through Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits in the 1980s.

Between the ages of fourteen and twenty, Connolly was brought up in a tenement in the Anderston district of Glasgow. He later lived in Partick.

He attended St. Peter's Primary School in Glasgow and St. Gerard's Secondary School in Govan. At age 12, Connolly decided he wanted to become a comedian but did not think he fitted the mould, feeling he needed to become more "windswept and interesting". At 15, he left school with two engineering qualifications, one collected by mistake which belonged to a boy named Connell.

Connolly was a year too young to work in the shipyards. He became a delivery boy until he was sixteen, when he was deemed overqualified to become an engineer. Instead, he worked as a boilermaker at Alexander Stephen and Sons Shipyard in Linthouse.

Connolly also joined the Territorial Army Reserve 15th Battalion, the Parachute Regiment . He later commemorated his experiences in the song "Weekend Soldier".

 career
 Origin of "The Big Yin"
Connolly's The Big Yin nickname was first used during his adolescent years to differentiate between himself and his father. "My father was a very strong man. Broad and strong. He had an 18½-inch neck collar. Huge, like a bull. He was "Big Billy" and I was "Wee Billy". And then I got bigger than him, and the whole thing got out of control. And then I became The Big Yin in Scotland. So, we'd go into the pub and someone would say, 'Billy Connolly was in.' 'Oh? Big Billy or Wee Billy?' 'The Big Yin.' 'Oh, Wee Billy.' If you were a stranger, you'd think, 'What are these people talking about?'"

 1960s
In 1966, after he had completed a five-year apprenticeship as a boilermaker, Connolly accepted a ten-week job building an oil platform in Nigeria. Upon his return to Scotland, he worked at John Brown & Company, but focused increasingly on being a folk singer.

Connolly's career as a folk singer led to him forming a folk-pop duo called The Humblebums with Tam Harvey. After recording one album, Harvey left the partnership and was replaced by future rock star Gerry Rafferty. Connolly’s time with Rafferty possibly influenced his future comedy as years later he would recall how Rafferty’s expert prank telephone calls, made while waiting to go on stage, used to make him "scream" with laughter. The Connolly-Rafferty version of The Humblebums recorded two more albums for independent record label Transatlantic Records. The albums were not big commercial successes but enjoyed cult status and critical acclaim. Connolly's contributions were primarily straightforward pop-folk with quirky and whimsical lyrics, but he had not especially focused on comedy at this point.

In 1970, the Humblebums broke up, with Rafferty going on to record a solo album: Can I Have My Money Back . Connolly returned to being a folk singer. His live performances featured folk songs with humorous introductions that became increasingly long in duration.

The head of Transatlantic Records, Nat Joseph, who had signed The Humblebums and had nurtured their career, was concerned that Connolly find a way to develop a distinctive solo career just as his former bandmate, Gerry Rafferty, was doing. Joseph saw several of Connolly's performances and noted his comedic skills. Joseph had successfully nurtured the recording career of another Scottish folk entertainer, Hamish Imlach, and saw potential in Connolly following a similar path. He suggested to Connolly that he drop the folk-singing and focus primarily on becoming a comedian. It was a life-changing suggestion.

 1970s
In 1972, Joseph produced Connolly's first solo album, Billy Connolly Live!, a mixture of comedic songs and short monologues that hinted at what was to follow. In late 1973, Joseph produced the breakthrough album that propelled Connolly to British stardom. Recorded at a small venue, The Tudor Hotel in Airdrie, the record was a double album titled Solo Concert. Releasing a live double-album by a comedian who was virtually unknown was an unusual gambit by Joseph but his faith in Connolly's talent was justified. Joseph and his marketing team, which included publicist Martin Lewis, successfully promoted the album to chart success on its release in 1974. It featured one of Connolly's most famous comedy routines: "The Crucifixion", in which he likens Christ's Last Supper to a drunken night out in Glasgow. The recording was banned by many radio stations at the time. Building on his cult Scottish following, they broke Connolly throughout the UK – an unusual development for a regional comedian.

In 1975, the rapidity and extent of Connolly's breakthrough was used to secure him a booking on Britain's premier TV talk show, the BBC's Parkinson. Connolly made the most of the opportunity and told a bawdy joke about a man who had murdered his wife and buried her bottom-up so he'd have somewhere to park his bike. This ribald humour was unusually forthright on a primetime Saturday night on British television in the mid-1970s, and his appearance made a great impact. He became a good friend of the host, Michael Parkinson, and now holds the record for appearances on the programme, having been a guest on fifteen occasions. Referring to that debut appearance, he later said: "That programme changed my entire life." Parkinson, in the documentary Billy Connolly: Erect for 30 Years, stated that people still remember Connolly telling the punchline to the 'bike joke' three decades after that TV appearance. When asked about the material, Connolly stated, "Yes, it was incredibly edgy for its time. My manager, on the way over, warned me not to do it, but it was a great joke and the interview was going so well, I thought, 'Oh, fuck that!!' I don't know where I got the courage in those days, but Michael did put confidence in me." Connolly's UK success spread to other English-speaking countries: Australia, New Zealand and Canada. However, his broad Scottish accent and British cultural references made success in the US improbable.

His increased profile led to contact with other individuals, including musicians such as Elton John. John at that time was trying to assist British performers whom he personally liked to achieve success in the US John tried to give Connolly a boost in America by using him as the opening act on his 1976 US tour. But the well-intentioned gesture was a failure. Elton John's American fans had no interest in being warmed-up by an unknown comedic performer – especially a Scotsman whose accent they found incomprehensible. "In Washington, some guy threw a pipe and it hit me right between my eyes", he told Michael Parkinson two years later. "It wasn't my audience. They made me feel about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit."

Connolly continued to grow in popularity in the UK. In 1975 he signed with Polydor Records. Connolly continued to release live albums and he also recorded several comedic songs that enjoyed commercial success as novelty singles including parodies of Tammy Wynette's song "D.I.V.O.R.C.E." and the Village People's "In the Navy" (titled "In the Brownies").

In 1979, Connolly was invited by producer Martin Lewis to join the cast of The Secret Policeman's Ball, the third in the series of the Secret Policeman's Ball fundraising shows for Amnesty International. Connolly was the first comedic performer in the series who was not an alumnus of the Oxbridge school of middle-class university-educated entertainers and he made the most of his appearance. His performance was considered to be one of the highlights of the show's comedy album and feature film . Appearing in the company of long-established talents such as John Cleese and Peter Cook helped elevate the perception of Connolly as one of Britain's leading comedic talents. Lewis also teamed Connolly with Cleese and Cook to appear in the television commercial for the album.

 1980s
In 1981, John Cleese and Martin Lewis invited Connolly to appear in that year's Amnesty show, The Secret Policeman's Other Ball. Connolly's performance was again reported as one of the highlights of the show and he was prominently featured in the subsequent comedy album (Springtime!/Island Records 1981) and UK film . The commercial success of the special US version of The Secret Policeman's Other Ball film introduced Connolly to a wider American audience, who were attracted to the film because of the presence of Monty Python members. His on-screen presence alongside these performers – who were already familiar to Anglophile comedy buffs – helped lay down a marker for Connolly's eventual return to the US in his own right eight years later.

In 1985, he divorced Iris Pressagh, his wife of sixteen years . He was awarded custody of their two children. That same year, he performed An Audience with..., which was videotaped at the South Bank Television Centre in front of a celebrity audience for ITV. The uncut, uncensored version was subsequently released on video. In July 1985 he performed at the Wembley leg of Live Aid, immediately preceding Elton John.

In 1986, he visited Mozambique to appear in a documentary for Comic Relief. He also featured in the charity's inaugural live stage show, both as a stand-up and portraying a willing 'victim' in his partner Pamela Stephenson's act of sawing a man in half to create two dwarves.

Connolly completed his first world tour in 1987, including six nights at the Royal Albert Hall in London, which was documented in the Billy and Albert video.

When the Fox Network aired Freedomfest: Nelson Mandela's 70th Birthday Celebration in 1988, Connolly was still virtually unknown in the States, but his performance drew attention, particularly from producers, and interest in him grew.

In 1988, Connolly's father died after a stroke, the eighth of his life. His mother died five years later of motor neurone disease. She was living in Dunoon at that point.

On 20 December 1989, in Fiji, Connolly married Pamela Stephenson, the New Zealand-born comedy actress he had met when making a cameo appearance on the BBC sketch show Not the Nine O'Clock News, in which she was one of four regular performers. He had been living with her since 1981. "Marriage to Pam didn't change me, it saved me," he later said. "I was going to die. I was on a downwards spiral and enjoying every second of it. Not only was I dying, but I was looking forward to it."

In October 1989, Connolly shaved off his trademark shaggy beard for a film role and he remained clean-shaven for several years.

 1990s
Although Connolly had performed in North America as early as the 1970s, and had appeared in several movies that played in American theatres, he nonetheless remained relatively unknown until 1990 when he was featured in the HBO special Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Connolly in Performance, produced by New York's Brooklyn Academy of Music. Goldberg introduced Connolly, and his performance has been cited as the moment that officially launched his career in the States. Soon after, Connolly succeeded Howard Hesseman as the star of the sitcom Head of the Class for the 1990–1991 season, but the series was cancelled during his tenure.

Connolly joined Frank Bruno and Ozzy Osbourne when singing 'The War Song of the Urpneys' in The Dreamstone.

The following year, Connolly and Stephenson moved to Los Angeles, and the family won green cards in the Morrison Visa Lottery. In 1991, Connolly received his first leading television role as the star of Billy, another sitcom and a spin-off of Head of the Class. It lasted only a half-season.

On 4 June 1992, Connolly performed his 25th-anniversary concert in Glasgow. Parts of the show, and its build-up, were documented in The South Bank Show, which aired later in the year.

Connolly was dealt a blow in 1993 when his close friend and fishing partner, Jimmy Kent, died. This year also saw him contribute vocals to Mike Oldfield's single The Bell as the "Master of Ceremonies".

In early January 1994, Connolly began a 40-date World Tour of Scotland, which would be broadcast by the BBC later in the year as a six-part series. It was so well received that the BBC signed him up to do a similar tour two years later, this time in Australia. The eight-part series followed Connolly on his custom-made Harley Davidson trike.

Also in 1995, Connolly recorded a BBC special, entitled A Scot in the Arctic, in which he spends a week by himself in the Arctic Circle. He voiced Captain John Smith's friend, Ben in Disney's animated film, Pocahontas.

A year later, he appeared in Muppet Treasure Island as Billy Bones.

In 1997, Connolly starred with Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown, in which he played John Brown, the favoured Scottish servant of Queen Victoria. He was nominated for a BAFTA Award and a BAFTA Scotland Award for Best Actor, as well as a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.

In 1998, Connolly's best friend, Danny Kyle, died. "He was me dearest, dearest, oldest friend," Connolly explained to an Australian audience on his Greatest Hits compilation, released in 2001.

He performed a cover version of the Beatles' song, "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite", on George Martin's 1998 album, In My Life.

In November 1998, Connolly was the subject of a two-hour retrospective entitled Billy Connolly: Erect for 30 Years, which included tributes from Judi Dench, Sean Connery, Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, and Eddie Izzard. The special was released on DVD in North America in 2004.

The following year, Connolly undertook a four-month, 59-date sellout tour of Australia and New Zealand. Later in the year, he completed a five-week, 25-date sellout run at London's Hammersmith Apollo. In 2000 he travelled to Canada for two weeks on a 13-date tour.

 2000s
In 2000 Connolly starred in Beautiful Joe alongside Sharon Stone. The following year he completed the third in his "World Tour" BBC series, this time of England, Ireland and Wales, which began in Dublin and ended in Plymouth. It was broadcast the following year.

Also in 2001, Pamela Stephenson's first biography of her husband, Billy, was published. It outlines his career and life, including the sexual abuse by his father that lasted from his tenth to his fourteenth years. Much of the book is about Connolly the celebrity but the account of his early years provides a context for his humour and point of view. A follow-up, Bravemouth, was published in 2003.

Connolly has also written several books, including Billy Connolly and Gullible's Travels , both based upon his stage act, as well as books based upon some of his "World Tour" television series. He has stated that his comedy does not work on the printed page.

A fourth BBC series, World Tour of New Zealand, was filmed in 2004 and aired that winter. Also in his 63rd year, Connolly performed two sold-out benefit concerts at the Oxford New Theatre in memory of Malcolm Kingsnorth, who for twenty-five years was Connolly's tour manager and sound engineer.

He has continued to be a much in demand character actor, appearing in several films such as White Oleander , The Last Samurai and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events . He has also played an eclectic collection of leading roles in recent years, including a lawyer who undertakes a legal case of Biblical proportions in The Man Who Sued God , and a young boy's pet zombie in Fido .

In January 2005, Connolly came 8th in The Comedian's Comedian, a poll voted for by fellow comedians and comedy insider and embarked on a major UK tour with 15 sold-out nights in Glasgow.

Also in 2005, Connolly and Stephenson announced, after fourteen years of living in Hollywood, they were returning to live in the former's native land. They purchased a yacht with the profits from their house-sale, and split the year between Malta and Candacraig House in Aberdeenshire.

Later in the year, Connolly topped an unscientific poll of "Britain's Favourite Comedian" conducted by TV network Five, placing him ahead of performers such as John Cleese, Ronnie Barker, Dawn French, and Peter Cook.

In 2006, Connolly revealed that he also has a house on the island of Gozo. He and his wife also have an apartment in New York City, near Union Square.

On 30 December 2007, Connolly escaped uninjured from a single-car accident on the A939 near the Scottish town of Ballater, Aberdeenshire.

In late February it was announced that Connolly would play ten shows in early April at the Post Street Theatre in San Francisco.

On 10 March 2008, tickets went on sale for Connolly's Irish tour, set to take place in May, June and July. He performed three shows in University Concert Hall, Limerick, ten shows at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin, five shows at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast and three shows at the Cork Opera House. They all sold out in a matter of hours. The tour also travelled to Kerry and Mayo .

In October 2009 he played a tour of his homeland, and sold out everywhere, despite adding extra dates. He stated he was proud to have broken the computer system for Glasgow and Edinburgh, as they could not handle the rush for tickets. In Glasgow he was playing at SECC. The SECC was built near the site where his family had lived when he was a child.

In 2010, Connolly revealed that he and his wife were now living full-time in New York City.

In May 2011 Connolly suffered a broken rib and a gashed knee when his motor trike rolled on top of him while filming for the ITV travel documentary Billy Connolly's Route 66. He returned to filming a week later.

 personal life
Connolly has been married to his second wife, comedian and psychologist Pamela Stephenson, since 1989. In the book Billy, and in a December 2008 online interview, Connolly states he was sexually abused by his father between the ages of 10 and 15. He believes this was a result of the Catholic Church not allowing his father to divorce after his mother left the family. Due to this, Connolly has a "deep distrust and dislike of the Catholic church and any other organization that brainwashes people". In a 1999 interview with The Sunday Herald Connolly condemned the SNP as "racist" and the new Scottish parliament as a "joke".

Connolly has one sibling: an older sister, Florence, who is a retired school-teacher. He is also the father to five children: two from his first marriage and three from his second.

Connolly is a fan of Glasgow based Celtic Football Club and has a seat for life at their stadium, Celtic Park, along with singer Rod Stewart.

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  Albums 

  Tracks  

Name Duration Released
Saltcoats at the Fair 00:00 2001
Near You 00:00 2001
Talkin' Blues (What's in a Name) 00:00 2001
Little Blue Lady 00:00 2001
McGinty 00:00 2001
If It Wasnae for Your Wellies 00:00 2001
Everybody Knows That 00:00 2001
Good Love 00:00 2001
Winchburgh Junction 00:00 2001
Glasgow Central 00:00 2001
The Donkey 00:00 2001
A Little of Your Time 00:00 2001
Telling Lies 00:00 2001
Cruisin' 00:00 2001
Stainless Steel Wellies 00:00 2001
Why Don't They Come Back to Dunoon? 00:00 2001
Song for a Small Man 00:00 2001
Silk Pyjamas 00:00 2001
Oh, Dear 00:00 2001
The Short Haired Police Cadet 00:00 2001

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  Sources

Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Billy Connolly", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.